Over the past couple of months I dedicated some time to attend a chiropractic paediatric seminar in Sydney. What I really took away from it was that the child’s brain changes and grows significantly from before birth throughout their childhood due to neurological feedback while learning to move, balance, speak and read emotions.
I started paying more attention to the way children are behaving, playing and communicating. As a child, I spent a great deal of time outdoors, running barefoot, climbing trees, building things etc. My parents would only let me watch television about half an hour a day if I was lucky. I am amazed now if I see a child pick up an actual book and read instead of playing a game or watching a show on their tablet or phone.
You may be wondering what this has to do with anything. Lots! Children need to improve their proprioception by taking in new sights and sounds in 3D. This is really important in brain development! A child’s day to day experiences affect both structural and functional development including intelligence and even personality.
So how does this work? Our sensory systems are the body’s way of regulating our movements and feeling where our body is in space. Sounds, visual images, shapes, textures, tastes and odours fire a lot of receptors in the body. This sensory information is passed from the receptors (e.g. in the hand) to the spinal cord, the brainstem, thalamus and finally the cerebral cortex (the main chunk of your brain) before deciding what the body should do and returning the signals to the motor receptors that cause movement.
Have you noticed your children or friends’ children having trouble with movement, balance/posture, coordination, timing, learning, cognitive function or having highly volatile emotions? It all comes down to the feedback from the receptors through the nervous system to the brain! There is a possibility that some of those areas in the brain have not adequately developed.
So how can a chiropractor help? Contrary to belief, we do not “crack” or manipulate your baby’s spine! What we do is check that all their spinal curves are developing at an appropriate rate, make sure they are hitting their milestones and that their primitive and postural reflexes are progressing as they should. Gentle techniques that are used on babies do not exceed finger pressure on your own eyeball! The main aim is to produce proprioceptive and muscle spindle cell firing which sends activity to the child’s cerebellum via pathways in the spinal cord known as the dorsal column and spino-cerebellar pathways. By doing cranial and sutural work (basically a head massage to the child) we are affecting the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, dural system and vascular supply.
Essentially what we aim to do is facilitate feedback into the child’s brain to encourage the development of gross motor skills and then eventually fine motor skills. There are also exercises that parents can do at home with children to stimulate brain development.
In summary, the main point is that children need to revert to the old school physical ways of playing, moving and exploring their surroundings. Their brain development will be enhanced much more by spending an hour playing at the playground with their friends than playing an educational app on the tablet or smartphone. Children are naturally curious, they want to see, touch, taste and feel everything they can get their hands on. The brain craves this proprioceptive feedback ultimately leading to its growth and development. The largest proprioceptive input to the brain however comes from the spine, therefore a spine that not working correctly decreases the proprioceptive input and consequent development of the brain. We now have at our disposal an ability to track this development and make sure that the child is not delayed and if so provide options to get them back on track. We recommend children are checked each three months allowing for early intervention should the need arise. I have also listed some references below for your perusal.
Yours in health,
• Child Care in Practice. Volume 11:4 2005:415-432
• Melillo R, Leisman G (2004) ‘Neurobehavioural disorders of childhood: An evolutionary perspective’, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers
• Piek JP, Dawson L, Smith LM, Gasson N (2008). ‘The role of early fine and gross motor development on later motor and cognitive ability’, Hum Mov Sci, 27:5, 668 – 681.
• Wolff PH, Gunnoe C, Cohen C (1985), ‘Neuromotor maturation and psychological performance: A developmental’, Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 27: 344 – 354. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.1985.tb04546.x